William Golding’s original Lord of the Flies manuscript goes on public show
Ten publishers may have rejected it but now the original manuscript of The Lord of the Flies, that classic novel that won fame for William Golding, is on show to the public for the first time.
It holds pride of place in a special exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, which is being staged to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Nobel Prize-winning author, who wrote the novel here in Marlborough.
The epic saga, all about anarchy among a group of schoolboys stranded by a plane crash on a deserted island, was written by schoolmaster Golding in 1952, who started sending it off to publishers the following year.
“We’ve got a record, in his own handwriting, of him sending it off to various publishers who all rejected it,” says his daughter, Judy Carver, who suggested that the manuscript and other items from her family archive should feature in the exhibition. “Eventually, eight months later, it went to Faber and Faber.
“The first person who read it had recommended that it should not be taken on.”
In fact, the reader’s report labelled the novel, later filmed and now regularly part of the GCSE syllabus for schools, as “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy – rubbish and dull.”
“But very luckily for us, a newish editor named Charles Monteith happened to pick it up and was gripped by it,” adds Judy.
Nevertheless, his interest resulted in further dilemmas for Golding, who had original called the novel Strangers from Within. The final title was reached only after 19 attempts to find one acceptable both to Faber and Golding.
And the correspondence now on show at the Bodleian for the first time reveals the arguments that went on between Golding and Monteith over the latter’s insistence that references to Christianity and to nuclear war had to be edited out of the finished manuscript, published in 1954.
But Judy Carver points out that correspondence in Faber’s own archive shows that there was a good relationship between the two men, though visitors to the exhibition can now compare the published edition of Lord of the Flies with the original.
“Charles was a tactful, perceptive editor and I think he helped greatly in my father finding confidence as an innovative novelist,” she told Marlborough News Online. “The cuts made to Lord of the Flies were prudent and effective.”
“Charles did not, I think, make additions to the text at all, except the chapter headings. It's undeniable that the cuts helped greatly to make the book accessible.”
Also, when Charles received the typescript of my father's second and arguably more adventurous novel, The Inheritors, he felt it was perfect as it stood. Through Charles's help my father had developed the confidence to be the novelist he wanted to be.”
The exhibition, Lord of the Flies and Beyond, runs until December 23.